創意法藍瓷文化新力量

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2009 / 9月

文‧郭麗娟 圖‧法藍瓷公司提供


近年「創意經濟」風潮中,台灣出現了一匹讓全球為之驚豔的黑馬──法藍瓷Franz。從南投埔里鄉下的代工廠,到自創知名的高級瓷器品牌,創辦人陳立琱@路走來,成功掙脫了台灣長年為人代工作嫁的刻板印象,讓台灣創意登上世界舞台。他的苦幹實幹風格,不僅為自己贏得「精品界的郭台銘」稱號,也大大提升了國家形象與國際能見度。


「法藍瓷」總裁陳立痟N讀輔大德文系時,由母親出資讓4兄弟合組海歌公司,代工生產外銷耶誕樹上不起眼的小飾品,包括人物雕像、小木器家具等。

大學畢業後,兄長赴美,經營權轉至他身上;1984年又成立海暢企業,在南投埔里設廠,除了繼續各種耶誕裝飾品的OEM(代工)外,也因應國外客戶要求做ODM(設計加代工),生產泰迪熊玩偶等商品。誠信和品質為海暢建立了好口碑,合作廠商包括美國禮品巨人Enesco、Lenox,德國Goebel、Kaiser,以及英國、日本多家知名公司。

放手一搏,勇闖品牌路

「每次看到自己設計、製造的產品,被委製公司以高出十幾倍的價格銷售時,總會想:為什麼要為人作嫁?如果能擁有自己的品牌該有多好?」但是要自創國際品牌,對當時的台灣代工廠而言簡直是天方夜譚,尤其看到我國第一個自創品牌的「肯尼士」(生產網球拍)暴起暴落的例子,讓他更加謹慎,他於是邊做邊學,累積國際人脈,靜待時機來臨。

決心自創品牌的背後,還有個客觀的環境因素:1988年台灣風行「大家樂」,隨後股市狂飆破萬點,全民熱中於金錢遊戲,公司聘不到作業員,導致交貨延期、產品不符規格等經營危機,最後在外國客戶建議下到中國大陸設廠且發展順利,不到10年員工已達8,000人,1997年業績更一舉衝破一億美元,成為全球最大的禮品供應商之一。

但在一片榮景中,市場嗅覺相當敏銳的陳立琱w感受到代工業的危機:「大陸同質性工廠如雨後春筍般設立,如果沒有自己的品牌,前途堪虞!」

當下陳立琩M定改變經營形態,跨足設計領域,並選擇以古老中國的第5大發明──瓷器──作為主力商品。初期雖有設計雛型卻不被客戶接受,直到1999年,自創品牌已成為他心中無法抑制的渴望,但務實來看,當時海暢的最大客戶Enesco每年訂單占公司營收6成以上,一旦自創品牌,和委製商打對台,勢必面臨大量「抽單」的危機,因此他採取溫和手法,多次和Enesco溝通,說明瓷器只占代工產品的一小部分,且未來的新品牌將走高單價路線,以和Enesco的大眾收藏定位做區隔。當時Enesco的答覆是:「有膽量,就試試看!」

1999年,海暢在美國芝加哥單點試賣「聖誕老公公花瓶」,頗受歡迎,於是2001年將新瓷器「蝶舞」系列舖進當地的禮品店,品質與銷售成績被通路商評為A+,成功的第一步,讓陳立盚鵀蛦衎~牌充滿信心。

從無到有,艱辛研發路

從1999年決心投入自創品牌,到2001年推出「蝶舞」系列,這段期間陳立琝諈`在技術研發及生產設備的金額高達台幣三、四億,過程中更遭遇無數挫敗。

「當時幾乎是從無到有自己摸索,要想燒出質地晶瑩剔透又有玉石般圓潤色澤的瓷器,必須取得最好的釉藥配方,色料也要符合美國FDA無毒標準。」回想那段日子,陳立畯W笑表示:「物理性的瓷土結合化學性的釉藥,卻是由無法完全科學化控管的『火』來掌控;釉藥的調配、窯燒時發色的時間和溫度,有時只是幾秒的誤差,成品的色澤就有天壤之別。」

公司聘請以「結晶釉」聞名的孫超先生擔任藝術顧問,解決了釉藥問題,瓷土也經研發人員不斷測試,混合多種瓷土比例,精心調製出獨家配方。

在商場歷練了二十幾年,陳立痦`刻體認到「全程掌控」的重要性,為了確保品質,法藍瓷的瓷土全部自己調配,絕不委外。基於對自然生態的維護,瓷土中堅持不添加骨粉(牛骨中的磷酸三鈣可增加透光性),而是藉調整瓷土比例及釉藥配方,燒煉出質地剔透、色澤溫潤媲美骨瓷的成品。

為立體化呈現平面藝術,除了採用「釉下彩」技法,確保色彩千年後仍豔麗如新外,工作團隊還克服傳統「翻模法」的造型限制,研發出「倒角脫模法」,這項擁有世界專利的技法,完美呈現了作品的繁複立體感。(見名詞解釋)

2001年,陳立琤H大學時代教授為他取的德文名Franz(法藍瓷)自創品牌,隔年在美國成立Franz Collection Inc.,結合台灣的設計研發、大陸的製造,並藉著國內外行銷團隊,打造出一個象徵「新瓷器」的嶄新品牌。

2002年6月,猶如一隻隻彩蝶翩舞的「蝶舞」系列,贏得紐約國際禮品展「最佳禮品首獎」,2004年又獲英國GUILD零售專賣店協會票選首獎。屢獲肯定之際,法藍瓷也期許自己成為「大自然魅力」的傳達者,而這種與萬物相親、與天地互動的情懷,可溯自陳立琤R滿蟲鳴鳥叫的童年記憶。

天地並生,萬物合一

1951年生於台北植物園員工宿舍的陳立琚A植物與昆蟲對他而言,有種與生俱來的特殊情感,只要置身園區,內心就會有一種與天地交融的寧靜感。國中時,他隨父親工作調動在嘉義就讀,遼闊無際、隨季節飄送稻香的嘉南平原,又給了他另一種美感洗滌。

「從自然中,我被喚醒,也被提醒;喚起基因裡的靈性,提醒人類有多渺小。大自然是我尋找創作靈感、思考自我定位和價值的秘密花園,」陳立琲磳隉C

懷抱以大自然為師的謙卑心態,他以「仁」為品牌理念:「『仁』講求的是群體社會關係,不但要成全自己,更要能成全他人。」他舉莊子所說:「天地與我並生,萬物與我為一」,說明人可以透過與自然的交流互動,體會萬物之美,獲得生命哲學的頓悟。

「儒家思想將真理與善意融入人與人的互動中,讓人舉措有據,行止得宜;若把『仁』的哲學思維實踐在生活中,流露在外的不僅是優雅的品味風範,更是一種從內蘊文化修養中散發出來的人文情懷。」

這種來自大自然由內而外的體悟,也展陳在法藍瓷作品中,自2006年起分別以「寫意人生」、「旺富木槿」、「繽紛派對」系列作品,連續3年獲得聯合國教科文組織頒贈「世界傑出手工藝品徽章」。

「寫意人生」以《亞洲鳥類保育紅皮書》中瀕臨絕種的「八色鳥」為主題,羽色斑斕奪目的八色鳥,宛如寶石般在樹林間散發璀璨光芒,不僅是台灣極珍貴的夏候鳥,也是全球保育的核心。陳立睌З菮鷏H瓷器留下八色鳥的美麗身影,除了許下來年再度拜訪的約定外,也間接傳達生態環境的脆弱與亟需疼惜。

常被用作圍籬植物的木槿花,則是「旺富木槿」系列的主題,從春季一路開到秋季,錦簇花朵為平凡的圍籬增添無限浪漫,甚至被韓國選為國花,時時提醒人們,永遠不要忘記大自然所帶來的無窮希望。

除了藉著作品喚醒人們對大自然的愛護外,2004年陳立琣b江西景德鎮設立占地30公頃的「法藍瓷園區」中,為了落實「順勢而為」、「永續涵養」的東方哲學,除預計在廠區附近的山頭種植100萬棵高經濟價值樹種外,並改變材料配方,開發「節能減碳燒窯技術」,以電窯或天然氣取代重油高污染能源,並將燒成溫度自原本的攝氏1,350至1,400度降到1,205度。預估溫度減少195度,每年將可減少35公頃的樹(每棵6公尺高)被砍伐,還可減少577噸的二氧化碳排放。

高品味,高科技

台灣設計、中國生產、全球行銷,是法藍瓷的關鍵布局。而多年的代工經驗,讓陳立盚黻篕琤奕麚艀n作出準確判斷,還大手筆投資CADCAM(電腦輔助設計電腦輔助製造)等專業3D軟體,讓設計師可以在電腦上直接設計樣稿,在實驗室刻出繁複多層次的精準臘模後,再送到位於景德鎮的工廠進行手工製作。研發實驗室裡每套雕模設備要價上百萬美元,大手筆購置設備,不僅在台灣禮品界絕無僅有,連在歐美瓷器大廠都少見。

流線型的手工設計質感,精雕細琢的立體樣式,是法藍瓷征服歐美市場的關鍵特色;而在行銷上,法藍瓷則趁著全球東方熱,成功「包裝」中華文化,滿足歐美消費者對於「天朝盛世」的想望,再憑著獨到的成本控制,以「物超所值」的價格策略,短短3年即躋身一線國際精品商之列,與英國Wedgwood、日本Noritake等領導品牌分庭抗禮。

陳立琱尷R,歐美禮品市場廣納百川、競爭激烈,沒有任何業者能夠維持寡占地位,而法藍瓷雖然沒有光榮的百年歷史,但勇於創新、沒有包袱,每年可以推出超過1,000款新品,讓市場熱度維持不墜。

前總統陳水扁出訪巴拿馬、中研院長李遠哲參加APEC會議,以及今年馬總統出訪中南美洲,都帶著法藍瓷做伴手禮。2007年12月,陳立睎繸賳扣ㄠ虳v本篤16世接見,他帶著法藍瓷與台北故宮合作、將清朝義大利籍畫家郎世寧畫作「櫻桃嬉春」轉製的立體瓷瓶送給教宗,是一次成功的藝術外交。

台灣的未來:創意產業

對於日前行政院通過「文化創意產業發展法」草案,計畫在2012年前投入台幣212億元,發展電視、電影、數位內容等6大旗艦產業,推動台灣成為亞太文創產業匯流中心,陳立琲磳隉A發展文創產業,應從強化文化基礎建設著手,他建議政府必須轉變思維模式,要「以客為尊,傾聽民間的聲音」,才能制定出有效的政策。

以英國為例,文創人才由企業養成的力量有限,因此英國政府特別給予融資、獎勵與租稅減免等優惠,各種實驗性質的新創公司(startups)才能蓬勃發展。反觀台灣,政府雖設有文化基金或創投基金協助文創產業發展,但門檻太高,受惠者相當有限。

「通路不足,是另一個問題。」他強調,文創產業既以「產業」為定位,就要放下藝術家的高調,努力尋找市場;但現有政策只重視各種創作資源的分配與投入,卻沒想到產品的行銷與通路。「這就如同不斷地往池塘中丟養分,造成無用的藻類大量繁殖;優氧化的結果,反倒扼殺了池塘的生機。」

為協助國內文創產業發展,陳立琣b2006年成立「亞太文化創意產業協會」,邀集產官學各界人士集思廣益,並以「人才」做為創造價值的根本。

曾為技職教育代言的他,對技職體系培育技術人才與強調實作的教學十分認同。以他為例,從海暢實業代工設計到法藍瓷設計團隊,都有不少來自技職學校的人才;屢獲大獎的「蝶舞」系列設計師何振武,就畢業於泰北高中美工科。

為了強化台灣產業的特色與競爭力,陳立琣2007年開始舉辦「法藍瓷文化創意大賽」,想藉這個以國際級創意競賽為遠景的平台,激發更多優秀人才,冠軍隊伍還有機會代表台灣到法國巴黎的Maison&objet時尚家飾展參展。

對於台灣文創產業的機會,他認為,一定要先取得華文區塊的領先,再走向世界舞台。

「中國大陸擁有豐沛的人力資源、豐厚的歷史文化底蘊、廣大的市場等優勢,台灣文創起步的同時,也要積極與中國文創產業對接,才能帶動全球華人區塊,進而攜手國際化。」他同時強調,只有跨行、跨業、跨國交流,才能掀起「頭腦風暴」。 

創意外一章:音樂

長年琢磨藝品之美的陳立琚A本身就是一個「跨行」的多角興趣經營者,除了大自然、除了藝術,他還喜歡聽音樂,「音樂,是人類最早的創作力,也是我很重要的靈感來源。」

陳立琣郎b大學時代就自組Band,從吉他、貝斯開始玩起,為了作曲又接觸鋼琴。但當時他白天上課,晚上跑西餐廳、美軍俱樂部駐唱賺錢,根本無暇拜師學琴,加上「搖滾才子」封號的虛榮心作祟,決定躲起來自己練琴。

「當時輔大女生宿舍設有琴房,舍監看我老實又肯上進,答應在中午時間讓我進去每天練一小時。」陳立睇y帶得意表示,自己大概是輔大唯一可以大搖大擺走進女生宿舍的男生!大三那年,他頂下台北頂好商圈的愛迪亞民歌西餐廳,除了讓自己所組的樂團擁有固定的表演場所外,更邀請許多民歌手駐唱,成為台灣早期的民歌發源地之一。

學生時代彈唱日本歌、西洋老歌,如今已近耳順之年,卻愛上了搖滾,心境隨著音樂節奏轉換,靈感也往往油然而生。

「音樂讓我更懂得如何運用創意,」在住家與公司都設有琴室的陳立琚A輕撥著電吉他琴弦說:「我一直沒有放棄鋼琴和吉他,玩音樂真的帶給我很大的快樂。」

讓瓷器光環回歸中國

兩百多年前,西方世界燒瓷技術未臻成熟時,中國瓷器的價格等同黃金,尊貴程度不言可喻,因此,歐洲百年名窯開創者,不是王室貴族就是大企業家,他們坐擁瓷器帶來的財富之餘,也讓這項工藝臻於藝術創作境界,終能成就輝煌傳奇。

如今,陳立睌З菄k藍瓷,在全球散播古老中國以「仁」為本、與天地萬物和平共生的文化思維,並從當代美學角度,重新詮釋中華文化之美。他期許,數百年前讓歐美社會驚歎不已的「china」光環,能再度回歸中國,達成法藍瓷「From China, back to China」的使命!

名詞小字典 「釉下彩」: 在陶瓷素胚上,用色料彩繪圖案,再通體施以一層透明釉,做最後一次的燒成。由於將釉彩「封」在透明釉下,可長保釉色如新,著名的「青花」即屬釉下彩。至於釉下「青花」與屬於釉上彩的「粉彩」並施,讓兩者爭奇鬥豔,則為「鬥彩」。
「倒角脫模法」: 「倒角」原指把零件邊緣的垂直夾角做修飾,以防止零件傷人。傳統陶瓷「翻模」中,因為無法處理繁複的倒角,往往只能做圓鈍的設計,在創意發想上大受限制。而法藍瓷花了數年時間,研發出以軟模取代石膏模,自此可海闊天空大膽「破格」,並結合浮雕與雕塑概念,將各式造型做完美的立體呈現。

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EN

Franz Blazes a Trail for Taiwan's Creative Industries

Kuo Li-chuan /photos courtesy of courtesy of Franz /tr. by Jonathan Barnard

In recent years, with the "creative economy" all the rage, a dark horse from Taiwan-Franz-has caught the world by storm. From running an OEM factory in Nantou's Puli to overseeing production of his company's own brand of high-quality porcelain, Franz's founder Francis Chen has successfully shaken off the long-held stereotype of Taiwan as a place that excels only at OEM work. Franz has put Taiwanese creativity onto the world stage, raising the nation's image and visibility.


When Francis Chen, the president of Franz Collections, was majoring in German at Fu Jen Catholic University, his mother backed him and his three brothers in an OEM venture that manufactured Christmas tree ornaments such as figurines and miniature pieces of wood furniture.

After Francis graduated from college, his brothers left for the United States, and the firm became his alone. Then in 1984 Chen established Seagull Decor in a factory in Nantou's Puli. Apart from producing Christmas ornaments as an OEM, the company also worked as an ODM (original design manufacturer) for some overseas clients, making teddy bears and the like. Seagull's reliability and quality has earned it a great reputation, and it has worked with giants in the gift industry, including the American companies Enesco and Lenox and the German firms Goebel and Kaiser, as well as famous British and Japanese brands.

Boldly building a brand

"When you'd see products that you designed and manufactured being marked up 10 times by the companies that hired you as an ODM, you'd always think: Why do we always have to help out other brands?" Yet companies in Taiwan back then regarded the notion of launching one's own international brand as the stuff of starry-eyed fantasy. And the rapid rise and fall of Pro Kennex, Taiwan's first big international brand, served as a cautionary tale. So Chen bided his time, gaining experience, building international connections and awaiting the right moment.

Chen's determination to create his own brand was pragmatic: An illegal numbers game (dajia le) swept through Taiwan in 1988, and it was followed by a speculation-fueled stock-market boom. With everyone's attention caught up in money games, the company found it hard to hire workers. That posed a crisis for management. The company fell behind on orders, and some of its products failed to meet standards. On the suggestion of some foreign customers, the company decided to establish a factory in mainland China. Things went smoothly there, and less than a decade later it was employing 8000 workers. In 1997 revenues broke US$100 million, making Seagull Decor one of the world's largest gift industry suppliers.

But despite enjoying prosperity, Chen, who has an acute market sense, felt that a crisis loomed for OEM manufacturers. "Factories in the same industry were springing up on the mainland like mushrooms after a downpour. The future looked bleak for companies without their own brands!"

At that moment Chen decided to change his business model and to move into the design realm. For their main product line, he chose porcelain, one of ancient China's five great inventions. Although customers didn't much care for their earliest designs, by 1999 Chen had developed an irrepressible thirst to develop his own brand. But he had to be practical: Enesco, the company's largest client, represented more than 60% of Seagull's business. Hence, there was the potential that Seagull's own brand would be perceived as competing with the companies it was manufacturing for and that Enesco might cancel its orders. And so Chen tried to be as upfront and levelheaded with Enesco as possible. He communicated frequently, explaining that Seagull's own porcelain would only occupy a small portion of the plant and that any new brand it launched would be high end, so that there would be a clear separation from the mass market collections that Enesco sold. Enesco's response: "If you've got the gumption to try, go for it!"

In 1999 Seagull sold Santa Claus vases in a single location in Chicago, but they were quite popular. Consequently, in 2001 Seagull introduced a series of porcelain butterflies, which it sold in Chicago gift shops. Their distributor said the butterflies deserved an "A+" both for quality and sales. Having taken that successful first step, Chen was brimming with confidence about creating his own brand.

From scratch

From 1999, when Seagull decided to develop its own brand, until 2001, when its Franz brand unveiled its line of porcelain butterflies, the company poured NT$300-400 million into R&D and production equipment. It encountered all manner of frustrations and obstacles along the way.

"Back then we were groping our way forward from virtually nothing, aiming to produce exquisite porcelain as smooth and luminous as jade. To accomplish that, the company would need the absolute best glaze formulas, as well as dyes that could meet US FDA toxicity standards. Recalling those days, Chen laughs wryly: "You've got the physics involved in dealing with ceramic clays, the chemistry of glazes, and then you add problems with controlling the heat, which seem resistant to scientific control. Adjusting slightly the ingredients in the glazes or the heat and firing times-even only by a few seconds-can lead to entirely different coloration."

The company hired Sun Chao, who is famous for his "crystal glazes," as a consultant. That resolved the problems with the glaze formulas. And the company's R&D department continually experimented with different mixes of clays, eventually developing the company's own unique formulas.

With a history of more than 20 years in the field, Chen deeply understands the importance of controlling every step of the process. In order to assure quality, Franz prepares and mixes all of its own clay: it's one job that the company would never consider outsourcing. In order to protect the environment, they don't add any bone meal (the tricalcium phosphate in bone meal is often used to add luster). Via adjustments to the component clay proportions and to the glaze formulas, they were able to fire bone porcelain products that were luminous, shiny, smooth and beautiful.

Striving to turn two-dimensional art into three-dimensional pieces of porcelain, the team, apart from using underglaze techniques to ensure that the colors will look as vibrant 1000 years from now as they do today, also overcame the limitations of traditional molding techniques by developing a new method for molding complex ornamental features on the ceramic surface. This technique, for which the company now holds a world patent, fully conveys the intricate three-dimensional feel that is characteristic of Franz pieces. (See the mini glossary.)

In 2001 Chen named the brand Franz, the German name he was given by a college professor. The following year he established Franz Collection Inc. in the United States. Franz brings together Taiwanese design and R&D, mainland Chinese manufacturing, and foreign and domestic sales teams to offer a "new style of porcelain."

In June of 2002, the "Butterfly" collection of gracefully dancing butterflies won the "Best in Gift" prize at the New York International Gift Fair. Then in 2004 it was voted "Best Ceramic Gift" by the Guild of Specialist Gift Retailers in Britain. After earning these honors, Franz gave itself the mission of becoming a conveyer of "nature's charms." This intimacy with the myriad living things and this sense of embrace between heaven and earth is rooted in Chen's childhood memories of nature.

At one with nature

Chen was born in the Taipei Botanical Garden staff housing in 1951, and he has always felt a special closeness to plants and bugs. Once he enters a park, he feels a sense of peace generated from his immersion in nature. When he was in junior high school, his father was transferred by his employer to Chiayi, and Francis likewise had to change schools. The move broadened his horizons; and the floating scent of rice amid the changing seasons on the Jianan Plain served as a form of aesthetic immersion.

"Nature wakes me up and makes me think. It calls to the spiritual side of my genes and reminds me how insignificant humanity is," Chen remarks. "Nature is also the source of my creative inspiration, a secret garden where I can consider my place in the world and my values."

Modestly looking to nature as his teacher, Chen takes the Chinese term ren ("benevolence") as the concept behind the Franz brand. "'Benevolence aims for connections with other social groups. With it, one aims to help others, as well as oneself, succeed." Citing the philosopher Zhuangzi-"Heaven, earth and I were born together, and I am at one with the myriad beasts"-he explains that people can, through their experience of nature, come to an intuitive understanding of the beauty of living things, attaining a kind of enlightenment.

"Confucian philosophy describes truth and goodness in the context of human interaction, so that people have a basis on which to know how to behave and gauge whether their behavior is proper. If you want to demonstrate benevolence in everyday life, more than demonstrating an elegant and tasteful style, you must show a concern for humanity that reflects inner cultivation."

This kind of realization is demonstrated in Franz's collections. Starting in 2006, Franz won a UN "Award of Excellence for Handicrafts" back to back for the "Bamboo Song Bird," "Island Beauty," and "Rain Forest Little Dwellers" collections.

The "Bamboo Song Bird" collection features the endangered "blue-winged pitta," a brightly colored, eye-catching jewel of the forest, which is known as the "eight-color bird" in Chinese. The species is not only one of Taiwan's precious summer migratory birds; it is also a major target of global protection efforts. With fragile porcelain, Chen has created an impression of the blue-winged pitta, both expressing the hope of future visits from the bird and also conveying a sense of the fragility of nature and the need to treasure and preserve it.

Hibiscus, which is often used for hedging, is the main theme of the "Island Beauty" series. From spring to fall, hibiscus adds romance to an ordinary hedge. It has even been selected as Korea's national flower. It constantly reminds us not to forget the fertile hopes that nature brings to people.

In addition to producing works that remind people to love and care for nature, Chen also established a 30-hectare Franz Park in Jiangxi Province's Jingdezhen in 2004. And in order to be in accord with the Eastern philosophical approaches of "going with the flow" and "sustainability," the company has planted a million high-value trees on nearby hillsides, and also changed its formulas in an effort to reduce the carbon footprint of its firing process. It is using natural gas or electricity instead of highly polluting heavy oil to fuel its kilns, and has reduced the temperature needed to fire the clay from 1350-1400°C to 1205°C. It is estimated that a reduction of 195°C is equivalent to saving 35 hectares of six-meter-tall trees from being cut. This cuts carbon dioxide emissions by 577 metric tons a year.

High taste, high technology

The decision to go with Taiwanese design, mainland Chinese manufacturing, and global marketing has been a key to Franz's success. And Chen's many years of OEM experience have helped him make correct assessments about the international market. Moreover, the company's major investment in CAD/CAM and other software has allowed designers to design models directly on the computer. Then they precisely cut out intricate multilayered precision wax molds in the laboratory. These are then sent to the factory in Jingdezhen to be used in the manufacturing process. Various machines in the laboratory that are needed for this process cost more than US$1 million each. That level of expenditure is completely unheard of in Taiwan's gift industry and even quite rare in the USA or Europe.

The sleek handmade designs and the exquisitely intricate three-dimensional styling were key elements in Franz's campaign to conquer the European and American markets. As for marketing, Franz capitalized on a global fashion for things Oriental, by successfully "packaging" Chinese culture to satisfy European and Western yearnings for the glories of ancient China. And by relying on its own unique cost controls, it was able to price goods below their true value. Consequently, in just three years Franz was able to join the UK's Wedgwood and Japan's Noritake in the top ranks of leading international porcelain manufacturers.

In Chen's analysis, the European and American gift markets draw products from everywhere, and there is fierce competition. No firm can hold a position of dominance: "Although Franz doesn't have a glorious hundred-year history, it has boldly innovated, lacks baggage, and come out with more than 1000 new pieces every year!"

When then-ROC president Chen Shui-bian visited Panama, when Academia Sinica president Lee Yuan-Tseh attended an APEC meeting, and when current ROC president Ma Ying-jeou made a tour of ROC allies in Central and South America, they all came bearing Franz items as gifts. For an audience that Chen obtained with Pope Benedict XVI in December of 2007, Franz worked with the National Palace Museum in Taipei to transfer an image of Cherry Tree and Grosbeaks, a Qing court painting in the museum's collection by Giuseppe Castiglione (1688-1766), onto a vase, which was given to the pope. It was a successful instance of aesthetic diplomacy.

Creative industries

Under the recently enacted Law for the Development of Cultural and Creative Industry, NT$21.2 billion is to be invested to help develop six "flagship industries," including television, film and digital content. The idea is to help Taiwan become a cultural and creative industry hub in the Asia-Pacific region. Chen says that in developing creative and industries, Taiwan ought to start by strengthening its cultural foundations. He suggests that the government transform its conceptual models. Only by taking a page from business and "respecting its customers and listening to what people have to say" will it be able to create effective policies.

To take Britain as an example, there are limits to industry's ability to cultivate cultural and creative talent. Consequently, the British government provides special treatment such as financing, incentives, and reduced taxation rates-so that various kinds of experimental startups have a chance to grow and flourish. On the other hand, while the ROC government has set aside funding to assist the development of cultural industries, there are so many conditions that few can benefit.

"Insufficient distribution channels is another problem." He stresses that when it comes to "creative industry," the operative word is "industry." One has to get off the artist's high horse and work hard at finding a market. Current policies are only concerned about the distribution and allocation of resources, but they overlook product sales channels. "It's like continually dumping food into a fish pool: the result is that an enormous amount of algae grows, and the eutrophication kills off much of what originally lived there."

In order to aid in the development of the nation's creative and cultural industries, in 2006 Chen established the Cultural Creative Industry Association, inviting luminaries from industry, government, and academia to brainstorm.

Chen, who once served as a spokesperson for vocational education, deeply understands the importance of cultivating skilled technicians and of providing education that emphasizes practical applications. He cites his own company as an example: From the teams that came up with Seagull's ODM designs to the teams that do design for Franz, all include many who received vocational educations. Johnny Ho, who has several times won design awards for his "Butterfly" series, studied graphic design at Taibei High School.

In order to strengthen the special qualities and competitiveness of Taiwan industry, Francis Chen began the Franz Awards in 2007. He aims to use this platform, which he hopes will grow into an international competition, to stimulate the cultivation of outstanding talent. The winning team will have an opportunity to go to France and represent Taiwan in Maison & Objet's "Show for Home Fashion."

Chen argues that Taiwan's creative industries should look first for opportunities in China, take the lead there, and then move onto the world stage.

"China has tremendous advantages, including abundant human resources, a rich cultural and historical foundation and an enormous market," he explains. "As Taiwan's cultural and creative industries start up, they should actively look to make connections with similar industries in mainland China. Then they can move on to the Chinese communities around the world and finally to international collaborations." At the same time he emphasizes the only way to "brainstorm" is to engage in exchange across industries, professions and nations.

His avocation: music

Having spent many years researching art, Chen is himself an entrepreneur who has crossed industries and is a man whose interests run far and wide. Apart from his enthusiasm for nature and art, he also enjoys listening to music. "Music is humanity's oldest creative force, and it's an important source of inspiration."

When Chen was in college, he formed a band. He started off playing guitar and bass. In order to write songs he also became acquainted with the piano, but at the time he was taking classes during the day, and then making money playing in Western-style restaurants and the American Club at night, so he had no time to find a teacher and study piano. And in addition, vanity-what with his being known as a "rock and roll genius" and all-reared its head, so he decided to hide away and study piano by himself.

"Back then the women's dormitory at Fu Jen Catholic University had a piano room. The dormitory supervisor saw that I was honest and willing to work hard to improve, so he agreed to let me in every day at noon to practice for an hour." Chen says proudly that he was probably the university's only male student who could just waltz into the women's dorm! In his junior year, he took over the lease on the Idea House Western restaurant in the commercial district around Taipei's Zhongxiao East Road Section 4. Apart from giving his own band a regular place to perform, he also invited many folk singers to come and perform. Many folk singers back in the day got their start there.

When he was a student, he performed Japanese and Western standards, whereas today in his late forties he loves rock and roll. His state of mind changes with the beat of the music, and inspiration strikes.

"Music allows me to understand better how to make use of creativity," says Chen, who has a piano room both at home and at the office. Lightly strumming an electric guitar, he adds, "I've never cast aside piano and guitar. Playing music gives me great joy."

Porcelain's glory comes home

More than 200 years ago, before Western techniques for firing ceramics had matured, Chinese porcelain was valued as highly as gold in the US and Europe. The founders of later famous European porcelain manufacturers were major merchants who often rose into the ranks of the nobility. Their command of porcelain production techniques, apart from allowing them to accumulate wealth, also allowed this handicraft to reach the realm of art. They left glorious legacies.

Today, Francis Chen is spreading the legacy of ancient China around the world via the concept of ren (benevolence) and the idea of man being at peace with the universe. And from the standpoint of the fine arts, he is reinterpreting Chinese aesthetics. He expects the halo around "china" that so enraptured the West several hundred years ago to return home, fulfilling Franz's mission of "from China, back to China."

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